Sonic Dream Team (Apple Arcade) review: A fresh spin on 3D platformers for mobile devices
Apple Arcade's new exclusive, Sonic Dream Team, with just a dozen levels and a simple control scheme – a D-pad and two buttons – might initially seem modest in its offering. It's easy to underestimate this title, especially given its current restriction to Apple devices. However, it's in this simplicity and exclusivity where Sonic Dream Team finds its strength, offering a fresh and engaging experience that challenges preconceptions about mobile gaming.
The game's narrative begins with the antagonist, Dr. Eggman, stumbling upon a device capable of turning dreams into reality. This development spells potential disaster, propelling Sonic and his allies into action across four creatively imagined dream worlds. Despite the game's relatively short duration, where I achieved 100% completion in around five or six hours, it doesn't skimp on content. Each level is densely packed with detail and excitement, often surpassing what one might find in larger, more sprawling titles.
Visually, Sonic Dream Team is a feast for the eyes. Each of the four worlds boasts a unique aesthetic, from the sun-kissed, inflatable-dotted landscapes of Scrambled Shores to the mechanical hazards of the Dream Factory, replete with conveyor belts and lava pits. The standout is undoubtedly the Nightmare Maze, a kaleidoscope of colours and gravity-defying paths that pay homage to M.C. Escher's mind-bending art. Yet, the game's visual flair is somewhat undercut by the other worlds' more traditional Sonic settings, hinting at missed opportunities to further leverage the dream theme. Additionally, the soundtrack, while functional, lacks the memorable quality that has defined previous Sonic titles.
Despite having only twelve levels, each is expansive and intricately designed, offering a wealth of exploration opportunities. The levels feel like vast playgrounds, with each run through revealing new paths and secrets. The gameplay is quintessentially Sonic – fast, fluid, and thrilling. The game's design encourages continuous momentum, with multiple routes, rails, and springboards adding depth to the platforming experience. Unlike some of its predecessors, Sonic Dream Team minimises frustrating gameplay elements like unexpected blockades, instead favoring a smoother, more enjoyable run.
Character choice initially feels limited, with just Sonic and Amy available. However, as the game progresses, more characters unlock, each bringing unique abilities that significantly alter gameplay. Tails and Cream, for instance, allow you to soar through the air while Knuckles and Rouge adds a new dimension to the gameplay by letting players scale walls. These abilities are more than just novelties; they're essential for unlocking new areas and completing challenges.
The game's progression is tied to collecting orbs, necessitating revisits to previously completed levels. This could be a tedious requirement in less thoughtfully designed games. However, Sonic Dream Team turns it into an opportunity, with each level housing a variety of missions that encourage different play styles. Some missions demand speed and precision, while others invite thorough exploration. The result is a gameplay experience that feels new and exciting with each revisit.
Boss battles, while imaginatively designed, are somewhat fleeting. Encounters like the inflatable crab boss are conceptually delightful but over too quickly, lacking the epic feel typically associated with Sonic bosses. This brevity leaves these climactic moments feeling somewhat underwhelming.
The game's performance across Apple's ecosystem is noteworthy. I played the game mostly on the iPhone 15 Pro Max and while touchscreen controls on it are adequate, the experience is less comfortable when I tried the game on larger devices like the iPad Air and iPad Pro. The game truly excels when paired with a physical controller, particularly when I played it on the MacBook Air and the iMac. The larger screen and physical controls transform the experience, giving it a console-like feel. Additionally, the iCloud sync feature enhances the game's flexibility, allowing players to seamlessly switch between devices – the beauty of Apple Arcade is its cross-platform feature.
Sonic Dream Team proves that with thoughtful design and attention to gameplay mechanics, a mobile title can offer an experience as rich and satisfying as any console game. Its engaging mission structure, diverse level design, and fluid gameplay mechanics make it not just a noteworthy addition to the Sonic franchise, but also to the broader 3D platformer genre. I think anyone with an Apple Arcade subscription will really have a good time with this game.While there are areas for improvement, particularly in story presentation and music, Sonic Dream Team is a game that confidently strides onto the scene, offering a vibrant and refreshing gaming experience.
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